My Daughter’s Giant Stocking (and Issues of Gauge)

These Kanoko Baby Pants, knitted with yarn my friend dyed, came out way too big because I didn't check the gauge before beginning. They are super cute anyway.

Knitters are supposed to check their gauge before starting a project. That means knitting a little swatch, counting the stitches per inch, and seeing if the result matches up with the pattern requirements. If so, great. If not, it’s necessary to pick a different needle size (or yarn) and to then try again to to get gauge.

Some of us, though, have an aversion to gauge. We are too excited to cast on, too pumped up about actually starting to complete this small prep step. And yes, this is why the baby pants I knitted last week, instead of being sized for 3-9 months, will probably fit a 12- to 18-month old. Oops.

My daughter's handknit stocking hangs between two regular-sized stockings. Hmm.

This is also why my daughter’s Christmas stocking, which I gave to her last year, is way bigger than a standard stocking. I worked diligently on it for months, being a novice to any kind of colorwork. The size–last year–was kind of funny. It was almost as tall as she was.

This holiday season, the stocking’s excessive length seems rather daunting. Will my kiddo ever know the joy of finding her stocking filled to the top on Christmas morning? (Unless someone stuffs a few rolls of toilet paper in the bottom, probably not.) But hey, a lot of love went into its creation, and that’s what counts, right?

Doing a proper gauge swatch is sort of like outlining your novel. You work out the problems until the rough shape of the thing seems intact and worthy of your time. Then you begin writing, knowing (at least vaguely) where you’re going, rather than simply hoping everything will turn out OK. Pantsing is much more like casting on without making that gauge swatch–and perhaps this explains why I was an avid pantser until last year. (Prep work? Nah, let’s just get started and see how it turns out!)

In any case, with my historical novel LOST NOTES, I made an outline and followed it faithfully in 2011. Unfortunately, my gauge was off. It took 80,000 words for my protagonist Henri to end up where I thought he’d be at the end of the first third of the book. As he embroidered his own adventures and connections around the scaffolding I created for him, he didn’t change enough. Which gives him, and this first draft, a flatness that I didn’t anticipate.

If Henri had ended up at this place in his character development 20,000 or 30,000 words into the novel, as I originally outlined, that would have worked fine. But the story grew bigger, much like my daughter’s stocking, and I didn’t stop to readjust. I just kept knitting. I mean writing.

But that’s why this is a first draft. And why I decided to abandon my push for an ending to revise. The work is slow right now. And frustrating. But the story that emerged from my outline over the past year is one worth telling. So I’m going to figure out how to do that, starting with revising the very first chapters.

On Sunday morning, when my daughter wakes up to investigate her giant stocking, I hope she pauses to admire Santa’s mohair beard, and Rudolph’s shiny beaded nose, before reaching her hand inside for a gift.

Merry Christmas to all.

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
This entry was posted in Knitting, Revision, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to My Daughter’s Giant Stocking (and Issues of Gauge)

  1. Leila says:

    My mother knitted two youngest brother’s stockings. They ended up huge in comparison to my stocking. (btw, the stockings were gorgeous. My stocking was knitted by a little Okinawan lady when we lived there.)

  2. Laura,
    Gauge schmauge. Did I ever tell you about my Texas-size Christmas ornament I knitted one year? No wonder I’m a pantster when it comes to writing.

    I hope you have a wonderful Holiday! Your daughter’s stocking may be big, but it sure is beautiful!

    • Ha ha ha! I’d love to see a picture of that, Christi! Pantsers, and non-gauge swatchers, unite! (Well since I outlined this last time, I’m not entirely a panster any more, but that’s definitely more where my sensibilities lie.)

      Have a wonderful holiday!

  3. Emma Burcart says:

    The first paragraph is the only explanation I will ever need as to why I don’t and won’t ever knit. That sounds like taking the strand test at the salon to make sure you’re not allergic to the dye. I always skip it. I love the analogy you made to writing, even if I don’t get the whole “knitting” thing. I am an outliner, but as my characters grow and I get to know the book, my outline changes. I figure that still counts as outlining. You now have me wondering about the word count and character arc. I just reached about 30,000 words in my WIP and I’m not really sure where the main characters are in their arcs. I really hope this is not some mathematical thing I’m going to have to figure out. I hate numbers. That’s why I write.

    • That’ll save me time in trying to convince you to knit… I won’t try! The hair strand test is a great, similar analogy though.

      If your novel ends up being around 90,000 or 100,000, then your characters would be 1/3 of the way into their arcs. But that’s as mathematical as I get, Emma! Do your characters feel like they’re a third of the way into their transformations?

  4. Congratulate yourself for figuring out the problem. Sometimes, you know somethings wrong but not what. You at least, have the light at the end of the tunnel.

    Love the analogy BTW. Have a great holiday.

    • Very true, Jacqui! Without knowing what’s wrong, it’s hard to fix it–or do it differently next time around! I’m sort of in that in-between state with my novel, knowing some of what’s wrong but not really knowing how to fix it. Yet. I guess that’s why revisions can be so time-consuming and compelling!

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